February 24, 2014
To those of you who have been paying attention to the news, you will be familiar with the situation in Ukraine. This whole process began several months ago around the time of Thanksgiving. Ukraine was on its way to joining the European Union and in an eleventh hour decision, the president stopped the progress, saying that Ukraine did not know the state of its own economy. It was not much of a legitimate excuse and the whole aim was to prevent to country from joining, instead favoring ties with Russia. This is where the protests began. The majority of Ukrainian citizens wanted for the country to join the E.U. and flooded the streets of Kiev in response. Very shortly there were clashes between protestors and police. These are the main events that have been making it to the news, and with time they have been growing in severity.
There are two main areas where people have been gathering, Maidon and Kreshadik. Maidon is the main square in Kiev. It is analogous to Red Square in Moscow. In this area, people built large barricades out of overturned trucks and tires. Within the square developed a large community with many people walking around in self-made armor and shields to defend everyone else. The protests have a large influence from the middle class which is one of the main reasons it keeps going. People donated food to be distributed out among the people, and the square developed itself into a mini city within the larger Kiev. For the most part, it was peaceful and was just for demonstrations. Kreshadik is a public street that experienced most of the clashes between protestors and police. It is where a lot of the violence occurred, but sadly, I don’t know much concerning it.
As time continued, the violence became worse and took off after the first people died. From that point, the protestors began storming government buildings and occupying them for long periods of time. For a while they were growing worse and worse, but at some point things began to calm down. It came to an agreement between the government and opposition that changes would be made to the constitution and people cleared out of the two main areas. This happened and it even came to the point that cleanup crews started tearing down the barricades. This was last Monday when I happened to be in Kiev for registration purposes. But as Tuesday came, the day on which the changes were supposed to be made, nothing happened. This reignited the fire and overnight, Maidon grew larger than it had been before.
This was the tipping point. With the return of people to the square the police sent out a statement that everyone had until a certain time to vacate, or they would roll through and force them out. The people of course did not leave and when the time came, the clashes began. Over the three days, around one hundred people died on the square by snipers with thousands more injured. One missionary who served in Center Kiev had a view of the main highway outside of his apartment window and said that there were constantly ambulances moving up and down the road.
This inspired riots to start forming in other cities as well. On Tuesday morning in Odessa, a man dressed up as Darth Vader had several other people behind him in Storm Trooper outfits all equipped with AK-47’s. They stormed the mayor’s office and took over the building. People in Lyviv attacked police stations and used all of the guns there to arm mobs. In Billa Tserkva the people ripped down the statue of Lenin at the center of town. The military was dispatched to every major and minor city in Western Ukraine, even Billa Tserkva. The whole country was getting ready for a civil war between the Europe-prone Western Ukraine, and the Soviet-cultured Eastern Ukraine. It was growing into large conflict.
It came to a critical point when the prime ministers of England and Germany came to Kiev in order to hold talks with the president here, who was the aggregate of all the tension. Their talks ended with the president resigning from his position and fleeing the country to Russia Friday morning. The violence has stopped and the country has no leadership. But in the eyes of the Ukrainian people, they have gained a victory. As I greeted people walking into church on Sunday each one of them repeated the same short phrase as the put their fist into the air, “Слава Украине” or “Glory to Ukraine”.
The job to be done is still not finished nor at any resting point. With no leadership in the country, their economy has been slowed down greatly. Many people here are speculating that Russia will use this as an opportunity to take Crimea, a large island at the southern part of the country, away and add it to Russia’s own empire. The outlook is much better now than it was five days ago, but there is still a lot of uncertainty in the political and social climate here. Only time will be able to tell for sure.
As a missionary I was affected in a different way by these events. When it became apparent that things were growing fast, President made the call that all the missionaries were to stay in their apartments. This continued on for all of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday until six o’clock P.M. To help pass the time, Elder Davis and I took our kitchen table into the living room and played ping pong off it against the wall. This was a great source for fun, until the ball eventually broke. From that point we watched the movies available to us as missionaries, which sadly are “The Testaments” and “Legacy”, which grow more and more difficult to watch with multiply viewings. But you do what you need to do. With these activities and studies, we were able to keep ourselves entertained.
The past week has been an unexpected turn in missionary work. Especially because our mission conference was planned to take place on Thursday. Two seventies even flew in for the event and a mission tour the day before all of the violence took place. So what we had expected to be a nice week where we had the opportunity to do good work and learn ended up being spent indoors. The time that we did have to do regular missionary work was difficult to work with because people were pre-occupied with the events in Kiev. Hopefully, things will continue to calm down this next week and I will be able to resume my job.
Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the destruction around Kiev or the rest of Ukraine to share with you. But living now in the age of information, any onlookers who want more information or a photo are only a Google search away. I will however attach a photo from Billa Tserkva of the place where Lenin once was. His statue has been replaced by a Ukrainian flag.